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Supporting Low-Income LGBTQ People During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Thursday, April 2, 2020
Hosted by Center for American Progress
[Online Edited Webinar Remarks from Tyrone Hanley, NCLR Senior Policy Counsel]

Hello, my name is Tyrone Hanley. I am Senior Policy Counsel at the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Co-Coordinator of the National LGBTQ Anti-Poverty Action Network. I use he/him pronouns.

My presentation is on how to ensure federal COVID-19 assistance reaches low-income LGBTQ people and families. It is only meant to be an overview. I encourage you to check out additional resources for more information. Here are my recommendations for advocates.

1. Inform LGBTQ constituents of paid sick and family/medical leave and unemployment insurance.

  • The second (Families First Act) and third (CARES Act) federal COVID-19 relief packages provide more workers with access to paid sick and family/medical leave and unemployment insurance.
  • Many people are likely unaware of what relief is available to them if they are forced to take sick leave or are laid off due to the pandemic.
  • The National LGBTQ Anti-Poverty Action Network will be hosting webinars on workers’ rights during the COVID-19 crisis and other relevant topics. If you want to get connected to the Network, email me at thanley@nclrights.org.
  • For resources on paid leave, visit paidleaveforall.org.
  • For resources on unemployment insurance, visit nelp.org.

2. Conduct outreach and provide enrollment assistance for LGBTQ people and families for programs such as SNAP (a.k.a. food stamps) and childhood nutrition programs.

  • The Families First Act waives the 3-month time limit for SNAP for adults without dependents during the crisis and provides states with more flexibility for nutritional assistance programs. We must make sure states maximize this opportunity and that people are being informed that food assistance is available.
  • Many states are applying for waivers that make it easier for people to access SNAP and other nutrition programs. We should use this moment as an opportunity to highlight how reduced administrative burdens – such as online applications and certifications, online shopping and delivery, and the waiving of the congregate requirement for the National School Lunch Program/Summer Food Service Program – make these programs more efficient and effective. With advocacy, we can make sure that greater flexibility in the administration of these nutrition programs stays in place after the pandemic is over.
  • frac.org is a great resource for more information on nutrition programs. You can also visit www.benefits.gov.

3. Engage in outreach to low-income LGBTQ people to help them obtain their CARES ACT stimulus payments — generally $1,200 for adults and $500 per child under age 17.

  • The Williams Institute estimates that 6.4 million single LGBT adults with an annual income of up to $75,000 will receive the full payout of $1,200, and 324,000 same-sex married couples with a combined annual income of up to $150,000 will receive the full payout of $2,400.
  • We must help qualifying people who have not filed income taxes in 2018 or 2019 file a simple tax form. Otherwise, they will not get the money they have a right to receive.
  • While the law instructs the government to engage in an outreach campaign and provide notice to those who are eligible for the payments, we know too many people will fall through the cracks. We need an outreach campaign like those done for the Affordable Care Act and Earned Income Tax Credit to make sure people are getting their payments.

4. Qualifying nonprofits should apply for Small Business Administration forgivable loans to help ensure their programs and services continue.  

  • LGBTQ organizations and other nonprofits are already taking fundraising hits due to the pandemic.
  • These forgivable loans will provide some financial support to nonprofits through this time by helping to cover the costs of salaries and benefits.
  • For more details about the various loan options, visit sba.gov or talk to an institution with whom you already have a lending relationship.

5. Encourage supporters to donate to take advantage of tax incentives in the CARES Act for charitable donations made in the tax year 2020.

  • Individuals can deduct up to $300 in donations even if they don’t itemize.
  • As folks receive their stimulus checks, it could be a good time to ask for support to help fund COVID-19 response efforts.

6. In addition to these opportunities, the third federal COVID-19 bill provides increased funding for programs like housing assistance, legal services, Low Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP), and other programs to address the rising needs of low-income people during this time.

  • While more congressional action is needed – such as increasing SNAP benefits, expanding access to relief programs to be more inclusive of more families and workers, freezing rent and utility payments, ending immigration enforcement activities, and releasing incarcerated people – we must do everything in our power to ensure that people get the support that is provided for them in the already-passed federal relief bills.
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COVID-19: Another Reason to End Youth Incarceration

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has added a new and urgent justification for ending the harmful, ineffective and expensive practice of locking up youth who are in conflict with the law.

Youth in custodial settings are at great risk of exposure to a highly contagious virus. Probation personnel, facility staff, attorneys, youth and others enter and leave these facilities every day, increasing the risk of contagion. Youth detention centers and prisons are notoriously unsanitary environments, and the young people confined in these settings have no means to employ the practices necessary to protect themselves. There is no feasible way to implement “social distancing” as a means of limiting exposure without subjecting youth to prolonged isolation and depriving them of contact with their attorneys and their families and loved ones. Where courts are closing, youth are detained for longer periods. Where courts continue to operate, youth are transported to hearings in close proximity to other youth and staff, further increasing their risk of exposure. Adults who are required to “shelter in place” in the comfort of their homes are experiencing high levels of anxiety, fear, and stress. Imagine the terror and trauma experienced by youth behind bars who are powerless to protect themselves and are separated from their homes and families.

The dangerous conditions caused by the pandemic add additional justification for the growing movement to end the practice of incarcerating youth who are accused of violating the law. According to the YouthFirst campaign, youth incarceration “isn’t safe, isn’t fair, doesn’t work and can’t be fixed.” On any given day, up to 50,000 youth are incarcerated in the U.S. LGBTQ youth, youth of color and youth with disabilities are significantly overrepresented among youth behind bars. While secure confinement is demonstrably harmful to all youth, some youth are more jeopardized than others. Incarcerated LGBTQ youth, for example, are at elevated risk for mistreatment, bullying, physical and sexual abuse and extended placement in “protective isolation.”

For these reasons, there is growing bipartisan consensus in favor of replacing youth prisons with treatment and rehabilitative services for youth and their families. Several states have closed large youth prisons, and county probation agencies have begun to close local detention facilities. A national movement to redirect public funds to community-based supports for youth and families has gained significant momentum. Advocates, families, and policymakers propose a public health approach designed to meet the complex needs of youth in conflict with the law rather than punishing them by locking them up.

Just as the LGBTQ community organized and rallied to fight the HIV epidemic, we must step up to protect those in our community who are most vulnerable during this unprecedented pandemic – including the countless LGBTQ youth who are currently detained or incarcerated. Youth advocates across the country have sounded the alarm and we must amplify their recommendations. We must insist that youth justice agencies immediately release youth who pose no risk to public safety, including youth who are confined pre-trial, for misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies, for probation violations or simply because there are no available placements. The longer these youth remain locked up, the greater their chances of contracting the virus and exposing their multigenerational families when they return home. When youth are released, they and their families must receive verbal and written instructions, as well as necessary supplies, to facilitate the safest possible reintegration. Justice personnel must work closely with the child protection system to provide safe housing and health care for youth – including LGBTQ youth – who cannot safely return home or have no home to return to. For youth who remain locked up, facilities must take the necessary measures to address hygiene and safety, as well as the mental health and emotional needs of youth who must live through this pandemic while separated from their families.

We are only beginning to comprehend the magnitude of the crisis created by the coronavirus. As our families and communities struggle to respond, we are required to radically alter our routines, behaviors, and expectations. In future years, we will distinguish the time before the pandemic from the time afterward. As with previous disasters and upheavals, we will permanently alter many of our policies and habits. Ideally, the insight born of tragedy will lead us to adopt compassionate responses to human frailties. We should embrace the growing trend to promote public safety through prevention – by creating a continuum of community-based services designed to meet the complex needs of struggling youth and their families. Perhaps one day we will look back and wonder why we ever thought that youth incarceration was a good idea.

Shannan Wilber, Esq. is the Youth Policy Director for NCLR and leads the efforts to elevate the most vulnerable LGBTQ youth across the country and advance policies to promote their safety, inclusion, and well-being. Shannan launched the Equity Project in 2005, a collaboration of NCLR, Legal Services for Children and the National Juvenile Defender Center, and the first national initiative to promote equal and respectful treatment of LGBTQ youth in the juvenile justice system. She was recently awarded the Juvenile Law Center’s prestigious 2020 Leadership Prize. 

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My First Week at NCLR

I’ve been waiting 7 months to say this: I work at NCLR!

Though I didn’t know what my first message to you would look like, I knew no matter what, I would end it the same way: let’s get to work.

When we announced in December that I would be starting in this role, we had no idea that it would be in the midst of a global health pandemic. In an effort to keep everyone as safe as possible during this public health emergency, NCLR is following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as well as the state and local government. So today, instead of writing you from my office, I’m writing you from my home. Our community is particularly vulnerable during times like this and we show our strength by doing what we can to take care of our ourselves and each other. NCLR will rise to the challenge of meeting the needs of our community.

And even as our world is changing, I know what is in front of me.

As I step into this moment, I’m humbled by the greatness of what I’m joining. I’m excited to be part of NCLR’s legacy of courage and fearlessness, and to stand on the shoulders of giants. I am honored to lead NCLR as we carve a path to LGBTQ+ equality.

And we have so much to be proud of. Over the past several months, we have seen states adopt laws protecting young people from the harmful practices of conversion therapy. LGBTQ+ inclusive sexual education is beginning to be taught in states across the country. More employers are providing gender‑affirming, medically necessary healthcare, and NCLR has been at the forefront of these incredible wins. I’m so proud to join this team.

And still, even as we celebrate these victories, we all know we have much more to do. Thankfully, there’s a lot of fight in this community, and these are the moments we suit up for. LGBT youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness than their heterosexual, cisgender peers, while LGBT older adults are twice as likely to live alone – creating vulnerability for our community at both sides of the age spectrum. Black, transgender women, and all transgender women of color face extraordinary and too often fatal violence. The LGBTQ+ population is disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, and the reproductive health and rights movements must better represent the needs of LGBTQ+ families. The disparities our community face is even greater when folks are also marginalized as a result of race, gender, ability, socioeconomic class and other identities. And as we spend the month of March saluting women and their contributions across the globe, we must make sure these celebrations include the many remarkable lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer women who have contributed to women’s history.

There’s a lot to be done, and I’m proud to be on your team as we win new victories and soar to new heights. In response to the current climate, we’ve postponed our welcome events, but I still very much look forward to meeting you. In the meantime, we are working on some creative ways to engage with you!

Though the start of my time at NCLR looks nothing like the way I imagined, my purpose and dedication to our movement remains crystal clear. Resilience is woven in the fabric of our LGBTQ+ movement and during this time we will do what we always do – move toward greatness.

I’ll close this message in the same way I predicted I would, with a sentiment that is all at once a challenge, invitation, promise, and plea: let’s get to work.

In gratitude and service,

Imani

Executive Director, NCLR

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We Stand Together

To all of our NCLR friends and family,

It goes without saying that our entire globe is fighting a shared battle against COVID‑19 today. Countries all over the world and most immediately our own communities are closing down, staying inside and reducing or eliminating school, work and events.

Today, in particular, we are seeing cities from our home base of San Francisco to New York and many in between pausing activity of all kinds. This news – and what we all need to do in response – seems to change every hour.

What we do know is that our extended community of LGBTQ folks and our allies is a strong one. We have met challenges, injustices, and setbacks. This pandemic is no different. We take care of each other – today and always.

NCLR is following the guidelines set forth by our local and state governments and the CDC. All of our employees are working from home and we have taken measures to ensure none of our work stops during this time. Our dedicated attorneys and staff remain fully engaged (in fact, we are filing a major new case today), and we are prepared to continue our efforts to protect and defend our rights and the lives and well‑being of all of you going forward for as long as it takes.

NCLR’s helpline (1.800.528.6257) is always open and we are here for you. For individuals who already feel isolated and alone, social distancing can feel devastating; we know that for the 20% of LGBTQ people living in poverty and the many more near poverty, the loss of wages and access to work can mean no money for rent, utilities and gas. We know that LGBTQ people are more likely to be food insecure and this will be exacerbated during this time. Transgender folks and LGBTQ people of color are more frequently impacted by sharp dips and turns in our economy and heightened anxiety and fears in more hostile communities. NCLR is right here and we are not going anywhere. We feel honored and humbled to be part of a nationwide fabric of incredible support systems for us all. Thank you to the other LGBTQ organizations showing up right now. And thank you to each and every one of you for always standing with us, supporting our work, and showing the world what it means to come together in hard times.

Now it is our turn to lead by example. We know how to join forces and hold each other up. We know how to stand tall in the face of incredible adversity. Together, we will use our power, our experience and most importantly, our kindness and love to do this again. Under a bigger tent with room enough for all.

With all of our love and gratitude,

The NCLR Team

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(Junk) Science and SCOTUS: The High Court’s Integrity is on the Line in June Medical Services v. Russo

I recently experienced acute déjà vu when writing our amicus brief in the Supreme Court case June Medical Services v. Russo, which deals with a challenge to a 2014 Louisiana restriction on abortion. That’s probably because the Supreme Court heard a case about an identical state abortion restriction just four years ago.

In Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Court found that a Texas law requiring that abortion providers have hospital admitting privileges did virtually nothing to protect patient health and did a whole lot to eliminate access to abortion. That’s because few hospitals – especially in Texas and Louisiana, where these cases have arisen – will grant admitting privileges to abortion providers. It’s a cynical but rather effective trick that abortion opponents have been using extensively in the past ten years or so: pass laws that pretend to be about making abortion safe, knowing that what will happen is that clinics will close because the requirements of those laws are impossible to meet.

In Whole Woman’s Health, a majority of the Supreme Court saw the Texas law for what it was – a sham measure with virtually no health benefit that imposed a tremendous burden on women seeking abortion care in Texas. Because the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of federal constitutional rights, the Whole Woman’s Health decision should mean that any laws in other states that are like the one struck down in Texas are similarly unenforceable. Louisiana, however, thought differently. Despite publicly available evidence that its law was literally modeled on the unconstitutional Texas one, it has persisted in enforcing its own admitting privileges law, necessitating yet another lawsuit by abortion providers so that they can continue to serve their patients.

Legally, this should have been an easy case. It is not terribly surprising the that U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of Louisiana, as the court is one of the most conservative and its judges are consistently hostile to abortion.

What is surprising – and somewhat alarming – is that the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. In a situation like this, with crystal-clear and recent on-point precedent, the high court should simply have summarily reversed the Fifth Circuit’s decision. Such a ruling – which says, in effect, “we don’t need any briefing or oral arguments because the outcome is obvious” – would have sent the proper signal to the states that they may not flout a Supreme Court decision just because they don’t like it.

That’s what happened a couple of years ago when Arkansas effectively gave the back of its hand to the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that affirmed marriage equality nationwide. When NCLR clients Marisa and Terrah Pavan sought to have both of their names placed on their child’s birth certificate, the state refused, despite the fact that they are married and that the state’s own law said that the spouse of the birth mother was to be listed as a parent on the birth certificate. In other words, the state refused to treat them as married.

The Pavans, along with Leigh and Jana Jacobs, another couple who suffered the same treatment by Arkansas, sued the state, which dug in its heels, offering an invented rationale about biology despite the fact that the statute regarding names on birth certificates is clearly based on marriage, not biology. When the Arkansas Supreme Court denied relief, we took the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court, which…summarily reversed. The high court ruled that Obergefell means what it says, and that states must treat married same-sex couples as they would opposite-sex married couples. Right outcome, end of story.

So why the déjà vu with abortion? Could it have anything to do with the Supreme Court’s new-ish lineup?  When Whole Woman’s Health was decided in 2016, Justice Scalia had passed and not yet been replaced, and Justice Kennedy was still on the bench. The decision was 5-3. Neil Gorsuch now occupies Scalia’s seat, and Kennedy’s retirement brought us Brett Kavanaugh.

Will the Supreme Court audaciously reverse itself so soon and hand abortion opponents a victory simply because there is now a conservative majority? Surely Chief Justice John “Balls and Strikes” Roberts would reject the notion that the Court is so lacking in integrity. So why did the Court take this case?

We can only speculate on the answer to that question. Louisiana offered up some unconvincing reasons why its law is not in fact a carbon copy of the one in Texas, and further upped the ante by lodging an argument that abortion providers – the ones targeted by its law – don’t even have legal standing to challenge it. If they get the Court to rule in their favor on the standing argument, it would be devastating to future efforts to challenge unconstitutional abortion restrictions.

Abortion providers – already some of the bravest individuals I know owing to their willingness to tolerate harassment and death threats to provide abortion care – have been the ones with the fortitude to challenge abortion restrictions on behalf of their patients. For what woman, especially in the age of toxic social media and virulent and violent anti-abortion protests, would want to lend her name to a court case to protect abortion rights? It is the clinics and doctors who perform abortions who do this for their patients, who bring these challenges in court. It has become, unfortunately, a part of their jobs.

In the Whole Woman’s Health case the National Center for Lesbian Rights, joined by a host of other LGBTQ organizations, filed a brief with the Supreme Court to remind it that states have often used bogus “health and safety” rationales to trample on the rights of unpopular minorities and other powerless groups, just as Texas was trying to do with its admitting privileges law.

The LGBTQ community has come forth again in June Medical to reiterate that essential point, plus two more. We explained to the Court that in recent years abortion providers have become important sources of health care to LGBTQ people, so if states are allowed to run these clinics out of business for specious reasons, our community will lose access to culturally competent health care services. We also lifted up the parallel between the constitutionally protected rights to reproductive autonomy and marriage equality, urging the Court to honor its own precedent on access to abortion care as it has done on access to marriage.

We sincerely hope that the Supreme Court does the right thing in June Medical. But we shouldn’t even be here. It is time that state legislators cease their unrelenting attacks on the dignity and autonomy of women and LGBTQ people. The unending stream of legislative proposals introduced by conservative lawmakers – from abortion restrictions to barring transgender youth from receiving essential health care – distort science and coopt medicine in pursuit of an ideological agenda that denies to individuals the ability to live as their true selves and make their own decisions regarding childbearing and family formation. As they have done in the past, these policymakers wrap themselves in the language of pseudoscience to disguise animus as concern for health and safety. And yet again, we must look to the judiciary to pull back the curtain, see these harmful policies for what they really are, and strike them down as the Constitution requires.

Julie Gonen is the Policy Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). She has an extensive background in federal policy and advocacy for non-profits, specifically on issues related to reproductive rights. She is the author of “Litigation as Lobbying: Reproductive Hazards and Interest Aggregation,” published by The Ohio State University Press; the book is a case study of United Auto Workers v. Johnson  Controls, a 1991 Supreme Court case in which corporate “fetal protection” policies were found to be unlawful sex discrimination. Julie also serves on the Board of Directors of the Abortion Care Network.

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Sidebar with: Shannan Wilber, Esq. NCLR Youth Policy Director

In May, Shannan Wilber, NCLR’s Youth Policy Director, will receive the Juvenile Law Center’s 2020 Leadership Award. Given to individuals across the country whose work has substantially improved the lives of children in child welfare and juvenile justice systems, this award recognizes what we at NCLR already know about Shannan – she is a fierce and tireless advocate for the youngest and most vulnerable members of our community.

Shannan is a career child advocate. She represented individual children at Legal Advocates for Children and Youth, engaged in impact litigation and policy advocacy at the Youth Law Center, and served for many years as the Executive Director at Legal Services for Children, a law office in San Francisco that represents children in foster care, education, guardianship and immigration proceedings.

Shannan joined NCLR’s staff in 2013, though her history with the organization goes back decades – as a donor, board member and co-counsel on cases involving the forced institutionalization of LGBTQ youth and the rights of children in public systems. Beginning in the early 2000’s, Shannan worked closely with NCLR to develop legal protections for LGBTQ youth in foster care and juvenile justice systems, including groundbreaking practice standards published by the Child Welfare League of America. In 2005, she collaborated with NCLR and the National Juvenile Defender Center to launch the Equity Project – a national initiative dedicated to ensuring equal and respectful treatment of LGBTQ youth in the justice system. Since joining NCLR, Shannan has built on this foundation to integrate the needs and voices of LGBTQ youth into efforts to transform public systems of care across the country.

Through tenacious and strategic advocacy, Shannan has shined a light on the structural bias that harms LGBTQ youth and undermines their potential. She has increased awareness, pushed for change and immeasurably improved the prospects of our community’s children. Her vision is our vision – that LGBTQ youth, like all youth, thrive in families and communities who cherish them.

 

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In appreciation: Rich Weissman and JD Horn

Rich Weissman and JD Horn first fell in love with NCLR in 2017, immediately impressed by the breadth and scope of the work and the sheer determination to create change. They have been serious NCLR fans ever since, hosting NCLR in their home in Palm Springs and providing meaningful financial support.

When asked “why NCLR?” they are quick with a response.

First, NCLR gets things done. They do not talk about what steps need to be taken to move our community forward; they take the steps and make it happen. They are activists, and for NCLR, action and results are what matter. We admire their “can do” approach and how much they accomplish.

Second, NCLR is run in large numbers by lesbians, and these women view the world through a broader lens and see opportunity that others miss. They are incredibly smart, professional, know how to roll up their sleeves, focus, and push forward to reach goals. Women in general, and the lesbian community in particular, are people who get the job done, and we admire them. We think it is important that women play a critical role in the LGBTQ community, and NCLR helps fill that gap.

Third, NCLR looks for legislative and legal opportunities to gain further LGBTQ rights. They understand that in America the courts play the critical role of providing and upholding LGBTQ civil rights, and so they focus on legal remedies for our communities, taking on cases that have national implications far beyond the specifics of each case.

Fourth, NCLR unites the LGBTQ community. There can be divisiveness among the diverse LGBTQ community segments, each viewing its constituencies in competition with others, as if civil rights, activism and support are a zero-sum scenario. But, NCLR understands that we are all in the same struggle, and by working as a united LGBTQ community, on all fronts and inclusive of LGBTQ issues across the spectrum, we can produce more positive and comprehensive results, benefiting us all in ways we cannot do as a fragmented community.

Fifth, we like that NCLR represents all of the components of the LGBTQ community – lesbian gay, bisexual, trans and everyone else who identifies as LGBTQ. So often the LGBTQ community keeps within its “own” group and does not always engage in meaningful relationships across the LGBTQ spectrum. NCLR engenders an inclusive kind of community building and provides it supporters with such opportunities.

This past December, Rich and JD made a significant investment in NCLR’s Transgender Youth Project, helping us further our work and showing true philanthropic leadership across our community. So impressed with our Senior Staff Attorney, Asaf Orr, and a desire to show support for the trans community in the midst of rampant transphobia, Rich and JD marry their passions for youth, trans rights, and a stronger, more inclusive LGBTQ movement. As parents of two daughters who are both attorneys, they appreciate the role that the law can play in setting precedent and furthering human rights.

When asked what they would say to others considering support of NCLR’s work, they shared this:

“Supporting NCLR is more than a donation. It is a family, a group of friends, a community. It expands one’s world vision, understanding of events and role that each of us can play in creating a better place for all LGBTQ people.”

 

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Client Spotlight: Remembering Kyler Prescott

Anyone who met Kyler Prescott knew that he was special. A gifted artist, pianist, and poet, Kyler expressed his creativity through every aspect of his life. He worked hard perfecting his passions and loved to spend any additional free time advocating for animal justice and LGBTQ rights.

Kyler Prescott came out as transgender at age 13 and in May 2015, after enduring transphobic bullying and discrimination by peers and others, the Vista, CA teenager died by suicide. He was only 14 years old.

A month prior to his death, Katharine Prescott, Kyler’s mother, took Kyler to Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego for suicidal ideation and for treatment of self-inflicted injuries. The hospital was aware that Kyler was a transgender boy and Katharine made clear to the hospital staff that her son must be treated as male. But during his stay, hospital staff repeatedly addressed Kyler as a girl. As a result, he continued to get worse and instead of treating him, Rady hospital discharged him early, before his medical hold even expired. Five weeks later, Kyler was gone.

On September 26, 2016, Kyler’s mother, Katharine Prescott, filed a lawsuit against Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego for discriminating against her son, misgendering him, and for claiming expertise in the care of transgender patients. After NCLR won two important rulings, Rady settled the case with Kyler’s mom in September 2019.

“When my son was in despair, I entrusted Rady Children’s Hospital with his safety and well-being,” said Katharine Prescott. “Hospitals are supposed to be safe places that help people when they’re in need. Instead of recovering at the hospital, Kyler got worse because staff continued to traumatize him by repeatedly treating him as a girl and ignoring his serious health issues. It’s painful to speak out, but I want to make sure no other parent or child ever has to go through this again.”

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Child-Parent Security Act Creates Needed Protections for LGBTQ Parents

Imagine that you and your partner must use a sperm donor to conceive a child. Imagine further that, after overcoming the financial and practical hurdles of doing so, and after raising your child together, you discover that you are not recognized as a parent and have no legal rights as a parent under the law.

Many LGBTQ parents face this tragic reality in states across the country, including New York.

Despite being a diverse and inclusive state, New York falls far behind most of the rest of the nation in protecting parents who use assisted reproduction – including surrogacy – to have children. This is why the inclusion of the Child-Parent Security Act (CPSA) in Governor Cuomo’s budget bill last month is so important.

As the Family Law Director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), a feminist-founded LGBTQ legal organization, I have seen firsthand how outdated laws that fail to address assisted reproduction wreak havoc on thousands of families – especially those with LGBTQ and low-income parents. I have also seen how inadequate protections for people acting as surrogates and for sperm and egg donors can cause equally serious harms, particularly for women.

The CPSA would modernize New York law and both protect children born through assisted reproduction and all of the adults involved in creating these families. Low-income parents conceiving through assisted reproduction are often left out of laws that focus on the highest cost forms of assisted reproduction, and these parents cannot afford to go to a state with better laws to conceive.

For a few dollars, parents who can become pregnant can conceive at home using a known sperm donor.  Currently, New York statute recognizes only married parents who use a doctor to help them conceive with donated sperm. That omits many families who use a sperm donor to conceive — those who are unmarried, single, or who do not use a doctor. The CPSA would also recognize intended parents regardless of the type of assisted reproduction and regardless of marital status, and ensures that sperm and egg donors are not inappropriately treated as parents.

The bill also provides a vital protection for low-income parents who lack the means or knowledge to consult an attorney or bring a lawsuit to establish their parental rights. New York, like every state, allows an unmarried biological father to sign an acknowledgment of parentage at any hospital, which establishes that they are a parent who must be legally recognized by every state. The CPSA opens this process to parents of any gender who use assisted reproduction. Allowing parents using assisted reproduction to obtain an acknowledgement of parentage is key to making protections a reality for low-income parents.

New York is also currently one of the few remaining states that makes surrogacy illegal, preventing parents who cannot conceive a child – including gay and many bisexual fathers – from having biological children. This bill would allow intended parents to conceive a child while also providing some of the nation’s strongest protections for people acting as surrogates.

This CPSA additionally provides that people acting as surrogates must be able to make their own decisions about their health and body, including whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. Persons acting as surrogates who are compensated also must be given independent representation by a lawyer they choose throughout the process, as well as health and life insurance. The physical risk of surrogacy is born by mostly women who act as surrogates and egg donors, and safeguarding their health right to bodily autonomy is essential.

Modernization of New York’s parenting laws is long overdue.  The harm caused by antiquated laws will continue to fall disproportionately on low-income and LGBTQ parents and their children until the Child-Parent Security Act is passed. I thank Governor Cuomo for his support of this important issue and urge the New York Senate and Assembly to pass the budget including this bill.

Cathy Sakimura, Esq. is the Deputy Director and Family Law Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights and is a national expert in LGBT family law. She is a co-author of “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Family Law”, published by Thomson Reuters.

 

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A Message from our New Executive Director – Imani Rupert-Gordon

Imani Rupert-Gordon
Imani Rupert-Gordon

I couldn’t be more excited to join the team at NCLR. Like many of you, I’m a long-time fan and supporter. Some of my formative experiences in this movement have come as a result of the unique voice and the innovative work of this organization. As a Black, queer woman, I have been grateful for NCLR and its commitment to a vision of LGBTQ equality that includes racial, economic, and gender justice; the insistence that these struggles are linked; and the consistent reminder that we are not free until all of us are free.

Coming to NCLR is, in many ways, coming home.

Right now, the LGBTQ movement is at a crossroads. At this political moment, we are facing intensified attacks from opponents and grappling with the reality that we are fighting to preserve protections that we fought so hard to win. Simultaneously, we recognize that disparities within our community have left many feeling like those victories never included them in the first place.

We are fighting against attacks that require the energy of a united, inclusive movement at the same time that we have to acknowledge the fractures within our community. The way we respond to this moment has the ability to define our movement for a generation.

Bayard Rustin so masterfully blended the civil rights movement with the trade union movement with the LGBTQ movement. He said: “You have to join every other movement for the freedom of people”. Indeed, every issue is an LGBTQ issue, and the work of NCLR will hold and honor that tenet as we continue to fight for legal protection, an inclusive policy agenda and provide public education to support every person in the LGBTQ community.

We’ve achieved many victories in our LGBTQ movement, but not everyone has been able to benefit from these victories. Oppression continues to exist even within the LGBTQ community. Transgender women of color – particularly black trans women –  systematically and disproportionately experience violence in our community. LGBTQ people of color are disproportionately incarcerated, fall into a foster care system ill-equipped to serve them, and are more likely to interact with the juvenile detention system. We feel the effects of redlining that racially segregated our country and created the groundwork for a system of gentrification that supports an economic stratification that continues to disproportionality hurt low income people, and people of color. We’ve come a long way, and we still have work to do.

NCLR is uniquely equipped to respond to this challenge. NCLR was created to provide an intersectional perspective to our movement, because our needs, and the needs of our families were not represented in the broader LGBTQ movement. So we built our own. And we will once again work harder to include more people that don’t see their needs represented in our larger movement.

And there has never been a more important time for NCLR’s approach for advancing LGBT equality and liberation through racial, economic and political equity and inclusion. And now, we will work to create the most inclusive, intersectional approach that our movement has ever experienced.

We are able to do this work, because we stand on the shoulders of giants. We are able to work so thoughtfully in coalition with one another, because it’s been done before. I am humbled to build on the legacy of the leaders like Donna Hitchens and Kate Kendell who have been such fantastic stewards of this mission of this organization. I am proud to be a part of the fantastic work being led by leaders like Shannon Minter who is translating that mission into a groundbreaking legal, policy, and public education agenda.

We have the privilege and opportunity to fundamentally shift the direction of the LGBTQ movement to once again include more of us and to protect all of us. And that is what we will do. I’m excited to join you. Let’s do this.